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Sue Holland

Off-Site Dining Recommendations

Restaurant ideas when stepping off-property

Friday, October 24, 2003
Text and photos by Sue Holland, staff writer

Eating out can be a big part of the fun of any vacation, but it can also take the biggest bite out of the vacation budget. For many people, eating in restaurants is reserved for weekends or special occasions, but when on vacation every day is special. The majority of visitors to Walt Disney World do not have access to a kitchen to store and prepare their own meals, but many of those who do still prefer to eat a most meals in restaurants.

Walt Disney World has enough restaurant choices in all price ranges to keep a family satisfied for the longest of vacations, without having to repeat a meal.

Despite all of these choices, however, there are times when it makes sense to look for a restaurant that's not on Disney property. For me, personally, I usually pay for just myself or a party of two, which makes eating at Disney prices less of an issue than it would be for a larger family. In fact, despite making frequent trips to Walt Disney World, I do not even consider leaving Disney property to find a meal. For me, it is not worth the inconvenience, and there are too many restaurants I enjoy to consider skipping one in favor of going off-site to save a few bucks. However, not everyone shares the same opinion that Disney restaurants are worth the money.

Generally, Disney portions are very large—much larger than any person needs at one meal. Prices are high, but considering the portion size generally it still represents a decent value. People can find equally large portions at off-site restaurants, generally for a fraction of the Disney price. For this reason, people may choose to visit local restaurants. Visitors staying in non-Disney hotels and motels may find off-site restaurants more convenient, as well.

In the Orlando area, and particularly along International Drive and Highway 192, it is not hard to find that almost every chain restaurant is represented. While some people would never consider using vacation time to eat at a restaurant they can visit at home, others welcome the familiarity and knowing exactly what to expect. In this article I will not focus on those familiar chains, but will highlight a couple of popular restaurants that receive consistently good comments. They are both part of a chain, but are not as common across the United States as a Red Lobster or Olive Garden would be.

Lake Buena Vista Ale House

The first recommended site is the Lake Buena Vista Ale House. It's located across from the Grand Cypress Resort on Winter Garden Vineland Road.

From Disney property, pass Downtown Disney and take Hotel Boulevard past the non-Disney hotels. At the traffic light across from CrossRoads take a left and then another left at the next light. The Ale House will be on the corner on your right after turning.

Lake Buena Vista Ale House is part of a popular chain of restaurants in Florida, serving affordable food in large portions.

I first became familiar with the Ale House chain when friends in Gainesville, Florida, took me to their favorite restaurant—the Gainesville Ale House. Years later, one opened in my town, and I've enjoyed them in other Florida cities as well. Each location has the same menu, and—if built specifically to be an Ale House—the interior will be identical. Hours at this location are 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., with “proper attire” (no tank tops) after 8 p.m.

Inside, there is a large bar area surrounded by plenty of tables and booths. There is a lot of dark wood used, which makes the restaurant seem a bit dark—but I find it to be very attractive. Smoking used to be permitted in the bar area before July 1, 2003, but now the entire building is smoke-free.

Menus also serve as placemats and I cannot imagine anyone not being able to find several tempting items to choose from. They offer wings, appetizers, salads, soups, burgers, sandwiches, pasta and a variety of entrees and specials. They have 11 different burgers on the menu, all made with a half-pound of ground sirloin.

The Chicken Nachos are very popular, and can easily feed an entire family. My favorite menu item is the Cajun Chicken Pasta, which usually ends up being three or more meals for me! The French Onion Soup is also excellent, as is the Conch Chowder. A friend swears by the Seafood Medley, which is shrimp, scallops, clams and crabmeat blend, sautˇed in garlic sherry butter over pasta. The Ale House is also home to Pepsi products, so Pepsi addicts suffering from Coca-Cola overload at the parks can enjoy their favorite beverages here. Desserts are available for anyone still having room—and as expected are oversized.

Prices range from $6 to $10, with appetizers being less expensive than that. The highest-priced item on the menu is the full rack of ribs for $12.95. That full rack would be at least twice as expensive at a Disney restaurant! Highchairs and booster seats are available, and this is a casual place where families are the norm. There are several television sets mounted throughout the room, all tuned to different sports events. I believe they provide crayons for the young children.

Another nice feature of this Ale House is its carry-out service. Customers can call ahead to order their food, and an Ale House employee will deliver it out to the car. When a Florida thunderstorm is raging, this is a really nice feature! Carry-out menus are available at the restaurant, and the carry-out order phone number is (407) 465-0405. You can view a sample menu at the Ale House Web site (link).

Bahama Breeze

Another popular choice with vacationers and locals is Bahama Breeze. Located next to Marriott Village on the way to the Premium Outlets and large Catholic Church, it is very convenient to Walt Disney World.

From Disney property, take a right at the light across from CrossRoads and take a left at the first light (Vineland Road) just after passing under I-4. You should see Bahama Breeze on your left. There are also Bahama Breeze locations on International Drive and in Altamonte Springs.

The one drawback is the potential for incredibly long waits during peak dinner hours. A wait of 90 minutes is common at the Bahama Breeze in my town, so I always visit for a very early dinner (by 5 p.m.). The restaurant in most locations open at 4 p.m. but this one is also open for lunch starting at noon.

Bahama Breeze has long waits during peak dinner hours, but it might just make your whole family anticipate the famous coconut-battered onion rings all the more.

Although the name “Bahama Breeze” would imply a Bahamian theme, the restaurant is actually inspired by the Caribbean. All of the food is made from scratch, and they have the largest beverage menu I have ever seen. Each location is identical in terms of layout and décor, featuring the architecture and style found in the Caribbean. Inside there is a fairly large bar area, and several booths and tables. There is also a small gift shop just inside the entrance, that sells mostly inexpensive Caribbean trinkets.

Valet parking is available here, or diners can self-park. During busy times, and especially if the weather looks questionable, valet parking is very nice to have. Although waits can be quite long, there is an outdoor covered patio area with a fire pit and also live entertainment during dinner hours.

Typically, the entertainment is a musician singing and playing Caribbean music, which helps add to the atmosphere. Appetizers and beverages are available on the patio, and they are plentiful enough to serve as a meal. Quite often, we visit the Bahama Breeze in our town and make a meal of appetizers on the porch.

Inside, they have an open kitchen that is visible from most tables. One of the most popular appetizers is the Onion Rings, but these are no ordinary rings. Each is about an inch thick, dipped in batter and coconut, then fried to perfection. A couple of dipping sauces accompany a massive pile of the rings to feed an entire family. My son generally hates onion rings, but he loves these.

The West Indies Patties are also excellent—similar to the empanadas served at Bongos but with much better flavor. They are crisply fried turnovers of ground beef and vegetables with apple-mango salsa. People who miss the coconut shrimp on the Disney Cruise Line menus will find them available here marinated in Coco Lopez and served with citrus mustard sauce.

A variety of soups, salads, sandwiches and entrees are available. Many items have a distinctive Caribbean flair, but everything is delicious. The pan-seared salmon pasta is very popular, and consists of bowtie pasta with passion fruit-thyme cream sauce with sugar snap peas, mushrooms and tomatoes. The “jerk” spice is common in the Caribbean and Bahama Breeze offers jerk chicken as a sandwich, pasta or entrée. You can see its full menu at its Web site (link).

Portions here are large, with some entrees being available in your choice of half or full size. Doggie bags are pretty common! There is a children's menu and the restaurant is very family-friendly. Prices run higher than the Ale House, but somewhat lower than Disney restaurants.

If you only have time to visit the Ale House or Bahama Breeze, I would definitely recommend Bahama Breeze. It not only has that tropical feeling that most vacationers enjoy, the food is more upscale and less ordinary. However, you are sure to enjoy both restaurants, even with picky eaters!


Sue has been hooked on Walt Disney World since her first visit in 1972 with her parents and younger brother. She kept returning more frequently until she moved to Florida in 1986.

After joining the Disney Vacation Club (DVC) in 1997, she now visits almost monthly. She also spends time at the DVC's non-WDW locations, and is experienced with the Disney cruise ships.

She takes many of these trips on her own, but she's also toured WDW with large groups of people, including families, the elderly, and people with disabilities.

She works as the Administrative Services Division Head for a large residential facility administered by the Florida Department of Children and Families. She currently resides in Southwest Florida with her teenage son.

Sue is one of our most prolific trip report writers. Read her trip report archive here.

You can contact Sue here.

Get the latest info about the resort at “Park Update: Walt Disney World.”


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